Beyond the headlines of the Israeli occupation of Palestine

Our understanding of the crisis within the region has been shaped by the words of journalists, allowing for the strategic filtering of the violent nature of the ongoing occupation, ethnic cleansing and genocide committed against the Palestinian people for the past 73 years.

Source: Reuters via Al Jazeera.

Reading headlines of the coverage of the escalations of the ongoing Israeli occupation of Palestine has become a part of my everyday routine in recent years. Our understanding of the crisis within the region has been shaped by the words of journalists, allowing for the strategic filtering of the violent nature of the ongoing occupation, ethnic cleansing and genocide committed against the Palestinian people for the past 73 years. Australian media coverage of the most recent Gaza crisis that began in early August – and has thus far killed 49 Palestinians – has again failed to legitimise the dehumanisation of an innocent population. 

Headlines in print media are pivotal in defining the scope of an issue, generating interest and informing the reader, however, they also play a secondary, less visible role in framing an issue towards a certain angle. To look beyond the coverage of headlines in the Israeli occupation of Palestine coverage is to understand the nature of Australia’s media landscape and the projection of headlines through our print media outlets. In analysing the August 2022 headlines from Murdoch mastheads The Australian, The Daily Telegraph, News.com.au, along with Nine-Fairfax’s Sydney Morning Herald, and independent outlets like The Guardian and ABC, we can determine the extent to which the Australian media landscape has sanitised the violent nature of Israel’s occupation of Palestine. 

Palestinians as ‘aggressors’

In the coverage of the Gaza crisis in August, headlines from The Daily Telegraph, owned by Murdoch, relies on descriptors such as “clashes” and “tensions” in attempts to provide a balanced positioning of both sides, subverting the violent nature of an occupying state. Similarly, The Australian uses vague terminologies such as “militants”, “ceasefire”, and “retaliation”, positioning both Israel and Palestinian forces as perpetrators of similar violence. This fails to acknowledge the perpetrator/victim binary. Failing to acknowledge a perpetrator/victim binary means that reporting surrounding the crisis has failed to recognise the inherent power imbalance between the Israeli forces and the Palestinian population. This framing has the effect of undermining the brutality of the Israeli occupation. News.com.au reports on instances of Palestinian resistance as “lighting fires” and “firing rockets”, illustrating Palestinian resistance as violent and extreme.  

Further sanitising the violent nature of the occupation, ethnic cleansing and genocide, Nine-Fairfax’s Sydney Morning Herald portrays the reality on the ground as “fresh fighting” between two equivalent forces who’ve both deployed “militants” to put up an equal fight. As a result, Sydney Morning Herald masks the inequality between Israeli occupying forces and its subjugation of Palestinian natives. Further, its fixation on a “two-state solution” to end the Israel-Palestinian “conflict” fails to contextualise the inherent power imbalance between the occupier, Israel, and the oppressed population, Palestine. 

A ‘balanced’ struggle

When language is utilised to debase the reporting on Palestine from its settler-colonial context, we understand that Australian media coverage of the Israeli occupation of Palestine fails to identify and distinguish the coloniser from the colonised and the occupied from the occupier. In contrast to Murdoch and Nine-Fairfax outlets, independent newspapers like The Guardian Australia and the ABC use more neutral terms in their approach to coverage; however, their reportage continues to operate on an assumption that there is an equal balance of military capacity, tactics and destruction used by both Israeli and Palestinian forces. The “conflict” narrative is further pushed by ABC headlines;  Gaza and Israel “militants” continue to “trade fire”. As a public service broadcaster, the ABC tends to reflect the government’s position on the occupation, projecting an Anglo-centric perspective on Palestinian resistance that emphasises the “Islamic jihad” and “militant, terrorist forces”. 

The Guardian’s headlines reinforce the “Islamic jihad” narrative in defining Israel and Palestine as balanced forces engaging in warfare that initiate “pre-emptive operations” within “confrontations”. The blurred perpetrator and victim binary results in a narrative that the nature of the occupation is equal and similar to other conflicts across the globe. 

A critical view of the crisis

It’s important to remember that the Australian media landscape has played a pivotal role in shaping and illustrating the nature of the crisis for the consumption of the Australian population, resulting in the continuous lack of accurate exposure of the human rights abuses committed by Israeli occupiers against Palestinian victims. 

The ability of headlines to embody a notion of objectivity has been criticised and deemed near impossible by media scholars in recent years. In his book Television Culture (1987), media scholar John Fiske explores how news production thrives on “speed and immediacy”, allowing for the diversion of the reader’s attention from the “commodification” of news. Headlines serve to satisfy  ‘immediacy needs’, he argues, allowing readers to erroneously believe that the headlines they are consuming are adequately informative. Whilst journalists endeavour to produce headlines that are factual and objective, biases and agendas are often not concealed through an ‘objectivity defence’. Fiske explores this through the notion of ‘exnomination’, which renders the objective and truth-telling voice as a disguise for the hidden agendas of media organisations.

Acknowledging that Australian media has circumvented context, dynamics and destruction of the crisis within the region, how can we keep ourselves informed of the violent reality of Israel’s occupation of Palestine? 

It starts with having open conversations and expanding our research on the crisis beyond mainstream news outlets. Seek out individual accounts from Palestinian people who have been victims of the violent occupation. Stand in solidarity as an ally to the Palestinian community in Australia. And always think about the real-life stories beyond the headlines when engaging in discussion about the devastating situation Palestinians face.